Research in Action: Diabetes Tent Combines Cultural Beliefs with Practical Solutions

(July 25, 2011 – Thunder Bay, ON) Lakehead Master of Public Health student, Zsolt Toth, is turning his thesis research into an on-the-ground health education project for Aboriginal people with type 2 diabetes. Zsolt is completing his Master of Public Health degree at Lakehead part-time through a distance education platform and has used his thesis results to help improve outcomes for clients in his professional occupation.Zsolt Toth, a Diabetes Dietitian Educator with the Noojmowin Teg Health Centre on Manitoulin Island, conducted focus group sessions as part of his thesis research: An exploration of the impact of cultural food beliefs and attitudes on the acceptance of the dietary recommendations for Type 2 Diabetes. “Participants in one of the sessions stated that they felt having a diabetes education teaching booth at powwows would be helpful, sort of a ‘diabetes first aid’ information booth,” says Toth.

Armed with this feedback, the newly formed Diabetes Wellness Program, Nogdawen Dissun, spearheaded a successful proposal submitted to the Northern Ontario Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative, to provide a Diabetes Wellness Interactive Health Information tent. The diabetes tent, using principles of the medicine wheel, is divided into the four directions of the medicine wheel with each direction representing a different aspect of health: mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical. Each health aspect has activities and information to help educate and support persons with type 2 diabetes.

Vital to the success of the Diabetes Wellness Interactive Health Information tent is the ongoing collaboration between the Diabetes Wellness team and area First Nation health staff as they work together to provide activities to powwow participants.

Each aspect of health has interactive activities to support learning, health, and healing:

Mental Health: portion control visuals, blood sugar teaching tools, brochures
Physical Health: golf putt and/or hockey shooting activities
Emotional Health: art expression activity, such as creative mask-making
Spiritual Health: mini-massages and four sacred medicines

The tent is currently making its way to seven First Nations communities in the Manitoulin Island District at each community’s powwow. As visitors enter the tent, they are given a colourful Medicine Wheel ‘passport’ that allows them to travel through the four different activity tables representing the four areas of health. Individuals have the chance to assess their diabetes self-care and learn ways to balance their self-care activities through application of the Medicine Wheel teachings. Once participants have completed their journey through the activities, they can enter a draw to win a mountain bike.

All participants can choose to leave their contact information with the Nogdawen Diabetes Wellness Team – Angela Shawanda, RN, Diabetes Nurse Educator; Isabelle Simon, RN, Advanced Foot Care Nurse; Zsolt Toth, RD, Diabetes Dietitian Educator – for a follow-up appointment. The team has already received solid interest from community members who would like a diabetes wellness or prevention appointment.

Thesis supervisors, Drs. Ian Newhouse and Marion Maar, are thrilled with Zsolt’s translation of scholarship to action, “Zsolt has done an excellent job of collaborating with First Nations on this initiative. This is a great example of Participatory Action Research. Our Master of Public Health program encourages all of our students to make a real-world difference and we think it’s to everyone’s benefit when course work can dovetail with what they’re doing in their professional lives.”

To date, the Diabetes Wellness Interactive Health Information tent has attended three powwows in Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation, Sheshegwaning First Nation, and Sheguiandah First Nation. The initiative is scheduled to travel to four more area powwows in Wikwemikong First Nation, Zhiibaahaasing First Nation, Whitefish River First Nation, and M’Chigeeng First Nation.

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Media: Zsolt Toth and Drs. Newhouse and Marr, are available for interview. For more information please contact Janine Chiasson, Communications Officer, at 807-343-8177 or

About Lakehead
Lakehead is a comprehensive university with a reputation for a multidisciplinary teaching approach that emphasizes collaborative learning and independent critical thinking. Over 8,280 students and 2,000 faculty and staff learn and work at campuses located in Orillia, and Thunder Bay, Ontario, which is home to the west campus of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. Lakehead University promotes innovative research that supports local and regional socio-economic needs. In Orillia, development continues on building a campus that meets Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) standards.

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